Read the 1st Chapter of BOUGHT FOR THE BILLIONAIRE'S BED here

Guilty Pleasures 2

Copyright © 2011

Chapter One

The hot, stale air forced its way along the platform as the train drew into the subway station. It did little to cool Mia Johansson down and messed up her hair in the process.

The heat felt oppressive.

The automatic doors opened, and she stepped into the carriage. Already it seemed filled to bursting point with passengers. As they piled in, they pressed against her back, fighting for their own personal space. Not a spare inch remained as the doors finally closed shut with a loud swish. The train lurched into life as it began moving from the station.

Holding onto the handrail above her head, Mia concluded that rush hour was not the best time to travel on the New York subway, but she had to get to work the same as everyone else.

Mia reflected on the serious student debts she had amassed during her three-year degree course at the Institute of Fine Arts. At the age of twenty-five, now was the time to see her hard work start to bear fruit. It was time to reap the rewards of her education, and find a job that paid considerably more than her current position at a bespoke dry cleaner. She’d worked at Madame Monique’s for the last four years. Unfortunately for her, finding other employment had proved far more difficult than she’d imagined.

Her parents had encouraged her to leave Sweden in order to achieve her ambitions. Her father had called her min lilla sparv, “my little sparrow,” and had wanted her to spread her wings and soar as high as a bird. They had never stood in her way.

For the past few years, she had sweated blood to achieve her ambitions. During her studies she had worked at the dry cleaners in order to keep a roof over her head. The work was oppressive, smelly, and on occasions, downright dangerous. How she longed to leave that stuffy, soul-destroying atmosphere far behind her.

As she glanced around the carriage at the other passengers, they seemed intent on avoiding eye contact. Their faces wore blank expressions, and they looked devoid of any happiness. Surely they hadn’t always been this way? They must have had hopes and dreams just like she did. When had they given up? Why had they given up?

Mia had hope, ambition, and a passion for life. She’d set her sights high. Obviously, to achieve her goals, she needed money. A moot point at the moment because sadly, money was the one thing she had very little of. Once she became financially secure, the world would open up for her.

There was so much she wanted to see. The Sphinx at Giza. The Bridge of Sighs in Venice. The Grand Canyon in Arizona. She wanted to hear a great soprano sing Madame Butterfly. She wanted to mix with the great and the good. Rub shoulders with movie stars. Discover great works of art. Have mind-blowing sex.

She breathed in. The list was endless. Shaking her head, she looked around the carriage once more. She wondered if she were being naïve. Perhaps the hundred or so people crammed into this small carriage like sardines had had dreams just like hers. Maybe the harsh reality of everyday living had crushed their desire for life altogether.

Mia comforted herself with the knowledge that she had plenty of hope for the future. She refused to be ground down. Something good would turn up soon. She was sure of it.

* * * *

Trent Mavers folded his newspaper and placed it on the breakfast table. He stared blankly at the New York skyline. He had a bird’s-eye view from the restaurant window on the twenty-first floor. He drummed his fingers on the table as he idly looked around.

Excitement, that’s what he needed. He was bored of the same old social gatherings. The same old faces with the same old conversation. Since Melissa and he had parted some four months ago, he’d been itching to leave New York altogether. He just had one final engagement to see to, then he could leave the New York social scene far behind him.

It had been Melissa who had introduced him to the great and the good of New York society. At first it had been entertaining, but as time had gone on, his enthusiasm had dwindled. Melissa had noticed his sudden withdrawal. At first she had put it down to overwork, but eventually she’d figured out the truth. She just didn’t excite him anymore. She didn’t turn him on.

Their last conversation had been full of vitriol and accusations. You don’t see me as a person, Trent. You don’t see me at all. Maybe he hadn’t been fair to Melissa. She was good-looking but not, it seemed, his type.

Trent rubbed a hand across his face, feeling the stubble rasp beneath his fingertips. He thought of all the places that he’d like to visit. Perhaps he’d return to his villa on St. Lucia. Spend a few weeks there and then explore the delights of the Caribbean on his yacht. A vacation would restore the blood to his veins. Then he could return to the city a little more fortified for the cut and thrust of the markets. He dealt directly in securities, whether they be art, stocks and shares, or commodities. As a trader, it was his job to second-guess how the market would react in a day, a month, a year from now, and he’d amassed a fortune by doing just that. He could afford to take time off. He shook his head and laughed to himself. With the modern world of today, he wouldn’t even be that far away. So long as he had Internet connection, he could still deal and keep an eye on the markets from anywhere in the world.

* * * *

Mia had worked at Madame Monique’s for four years. The dry cleaner offered a bespoke and very expensive service. They cleaned all the top haute couture dresses and suits worn by the elite of New York society.

Monica Weston, her boss and owner, showed her displeasure as Mia entered the surprisingly opulent dry cleaners at just two minutes past nine.

“You’re late,” she snarled, her mouth firming into a thin line of disapproval.

Monica was in one of her moods. Something had obviously upset her and not just her lateness. Mia knew from experience that it was best to keep quiet and refrain from answering back. In the past it had only made matters worse. Instead she put her purse behind the counter and began sifting through the many garments that were ready for collection.

Monica had larger-than-life coifed hair to go with her larger-than-life personality. Great cascades of dark black hair vied for attention on top of her head, along with one bright swathe of gray from temple to ear on the left side. It reminded Mia of the stripes on a zebra or, dare she think, a skunk. In the time she’d worked here, Mia had never quite plucked up the courage to ask if it was natural or dyed.

At the age of fifty-two, Monica obviously looked after herself with all the latest cosmetics and manicures, but she never got it quite right. The colors she wore just seemed a little too bright, and her clothes all seemed one size too small. Perhaps she was trying to kid herself that she hadn’t put on any weight in the last few years. Only Mia knew different. Take the bright pink two-piece suit she was wearing. The buttons barely held the jacket in place, and the skirt was all rucked up around the waist.

Monica cleared her throat. “I’m sorry I snapped, Mia, but I’ve had some rather bad news.”

Mia looked at her more closely. It was unusual for her boss to apologize. “I hope the news is not too bad, Monica.”

“I’m afraid so, Mia. I can’t go to the 3G charity ball on Friday.”

“Oh, why ever not? You were so looking forward to it.” For the past two months, Monica had spoken of little else. What she was going to wear, and which celebrity she was going to rub shoulders with.

“I know, but Karenna has broken her leg in a car accident. I’m flying out to Chicago this afternoon to look after my grandchildren.”

If there was one thing that Monica talked about more than the charity ball, it was her grandchildren.
“I’m really sorry to hear that, Monica. Will you be gone long?”

“A few days, at least, until her husband can arrange some leave. I’m sorry to dump it on you, but I’m afraid you’ll have to run the shop on your own for a while. I know you’re more than capable.”

“Yes, of course, Monica.”

She then dug into her shoulder bag and pulled out a small envelope. She waved it around. “My tickets to the 3G ball. Cost me over a thousand dollars, but you know what they say, money talks. That’s the only thing people respect these days.” She shook her head. “What a waste. Maybe next year I’ll be able to go. It would have been nice representing Madame Monique’s at such an illustrious event.”

Mia had longed to go, too. She had become increasingly interested in the art that would be displayed. An idea began to form. “Maybe I could go to the event in your place. I’d be more than happy to represent you.” Mia surprised herself by speaking her thoughts out loud.

When Monica looked at her, disbelief showed in her eyes, and she shook her head in disdain. “I’m astonished, Mia. I thought you had more sense than that. You’d only make a fool of yourself.”

Mia felt as though Monica had dealt her a low-body blow, and the air rushed from her lungs in a loud gasp.

Monica continued, “What could you possibly know about a social gathering of such magnitude?” Abruptly, she tore the tickets in two, and then dropped them straight into a wastebasket.

“That’s rather unfair, Monica.”

“Perhaps, but it’s for the best. Your clothes, your hair all say student, Mia. It would never do. Now, I think I’ve thought of everything. You have my telephone number in case of emergency should anything go wrong. Only use it if absolutely necessary though.”

“Of course, Monica. I’m more than capable. I won’t bother you.”

“You are, Mia, and if I was a little harsh over the gala tickets then I’m sorry, but it’s always best to stick with what you know. One needs style and panache to pull off such a social gathering.”

Mia smiled, a fake smile, to stop the bile that threatened to spill from her mouth. She comforted herself with the knowledge that Monica wouldn’t know style if it sat up and bit her ass.

Once Monica had finally gone, she stared into the wastepaper basket. She could just make out the edge of one of the tickets under all the scrapped tags. She leaned down and removed the torn fragments from the bin. She knew from the billboards around the city that the distinguished gala would be auctioning off significant pieces of art. It had been billed as the event of the year. How she dreamed of being there, too.
The huge advertisements seemed to be everywhere. They showed two people, a man and a woman, admiring works of art. A glass of champagne held in their hands. The caption underneath read,

The Greatest Gift of all is to Give.
The 3G gala event. Taking poverty off the streets.

Some great works of art from both living and dead artists had been donated and were to be auctioned off to raise money for homeless people. Mia knew Monica had absolutely no interest whatsoever in the plight of the homeless. She just wanted to rub shoulders with rich and famous people. The words social climber could have been coined just for her. All the great and the good of New York were going, along with celebrities and movie stars.

One of the paintings illustrated in the advert was simply fascinating. She knew it was by an up-and-coming artist called Hans Vergen from Cologne in Germany. What she would give to be able to study it more closely. She placed the ripped tickets on the counter and stared at them. Surely now she had the means to go? But what about her shabby student clothes? Monica had been right, she’d certainly stick out like a sore thumb. Her student attire just wasn’t fit to be seen at such a high-class social gathering, and without any spare money, she couldn’t afford to buy something more sophisticated, either. She sighed resignedly. The event was just two days away. Perhaps, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Looking around her work environment, Mia’s gaze was drawn to a set of clothes that had been left for dry cleaning the previous day. The bespoke five-star service had been requested for all three items. All the garments were of the highest quality and in her size, too.

On autopilot, she pulled each dress from the rack and held it up. A red Bellini dress in particular caught her eye. With a sweetheart neckline, it tapered in at the waist and flowed out into a beautiful swirl. An idea began to form in her mind, and then she shook her head. No, it was too risky and outlandish. She’d never get away with it.

Would she?

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